A long, long time ago when people wanted privacy for their phone call, they might choose to use a phone booth. The booth created a “box” around their conversation giving them a reasonable degree of privacy. Today, phone booths are long gone but the need for privacy still endures. Today’s phone booth is a software construct known as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which acts like a phone booth in that it builds a tunnel (think of that as a long box) around the internet “wires” carrying your conversation or data stream. Anyone trying to eavesdrop on your activity will find themselves up against a strong encryption algorithm which provides nearly unbreakable security.
A VPN works by routing your device’s internet connection through your chosen VPN’s private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP) so that when your data is transmitted to the internet, it comes from the VPN rather than your computer. The VPN acts as an intermediary of sorts as you connect to the internet, thereby hiding your IP address – the string of numbers your ISP assigns your device – and protecting your identity. Furthermore, if your data is somehow intercepted, it will be unreadable until it reaches its final destination.
VPNs can have fixed endpoints on both ends, something which might be used between multiple locations of a large business. In this sort of environment all data traffic between fixed locations is encrypted by the VPN. Individual users don’t realize they’re using a VPN because all traffic between those locations passes through it automatically.
Or a VPN might have your computer as one endpoint with the other being user-selectable depending on where your data stream is headed to or from. A number of major VPN providers such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN provide a selection of VPN endpoints all over the world. If you want to send a secure message to an associate in another city or even in another country, you can select a VPN endpoint near them to minimize the distance your unencrypted message will be exposed on the internet.
When you use a VPN that has an endpoint in something other than your company’s facilities, your data stream will look as if it originated at the endpoint, in that city. If the recipient of your message uses a “locate this IP” service, it will appear that your message originates in the city where the endpoint is located.
WiFiRanger routers all incorporate a built-in VPN which we call SafeSurfTM . This is a VPN that originates at your Ranger and ends at the WiFiRanger servers in Idaho. If you ask, “what does that do for me?” it totally encrypts your data at your local campground or other location at which you are concerned about possibly being hacked. When your data enters the internet, it will be as part of a large data stream going from our server to the “backbone” of the internet the size of which makes intercepting a single data stream much more difficult.
So, if VPNs are so wonderful, why doesn’t everyone use one all the time? Well, as is often said about many things in life “you don’t get something for nothing.” VPNs do work exactly like I’ve described but providing the encryption they provide means that more data bits have to be used. It’s as if that tunnel that the VPN creates is built out of a web of data bits. Using extra data to create that tunnel means that your data stream might get slowed down because some of the available data gets used for security rather than for your data stream. If we all had gigabit fiber connecting our homes and offices maybe this wouldn’t be a concern, but, for most of us, our more limited data capabilities mean that we can’t use VPNs indiscriminately. But when you need security, nothing beats a VPN.